Tag Archives: bread

Through Green Colored Glasses

13 Mar

When we were little bickering children, my older sister (an artist now, imagine that) claimed all the colors for herself.  Red, purple, pink, blue… the whole rainbow was off limits to me.  Except green.  Bullying, six-year-old Ava, in her infinite generosity, gave me green, and that was that. From then on, green was my favorite color.  And I believed her.  At my fifth birthday party, the balloons, paper plates, and party hats were bright green; my bedspread suddenly matched the recycling bin; and our mother dressed us in matching jumpers—Ava would be donning a bright magenta ensemble while I was always conspicuously the color of phlegm.

So it’s no wonder I felt the attraction to Ireland immediately.  The green landscape that became my backdrop for a year felt oddly like home.  It’s as if, from the moment Ava told me I loved green, Ireland became my homeland.  I’m a descendant of Russian and Hungarian Jews, so of course this isn’t really true… and I guess under this same rationale, my peculiar affinity for pickles around the same age could have placed me just as comfortably in Hungary or Germany.  But that’s beside the point, and for the purpose of this story, Ava led to green, which led to Ireland.

You’ll see it all over this blog… from Whiskey cakes to Guinness cookies to Bailey’s cupcakes—I just love all things Irish (particularly the booze and baked goods).  So, of course, I had to bake something to commemorate this St. Patrick’s Day (which I have never really celebrated, spending my past Patty’s Days in Greece, cramming for finals, or working long waitressing shifts).  I am aware of the obvious absurdity of the “holiday,” though, and can’t help but detest the way drunken American kids take this day as an excuse to swig massive amounts of bright green beers while wearing leprechaun hats and Mardi Gras beads.  So instead of making some kitschy green-frosted cupcake, I stuck with a classic—Irish soda bread.  Traditional, simple, and delicious.

Irish Soda Bread


Ingredients:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a large bowl, stir the dry ingredients together with a whisk.  Make a well in the center and add 1 cup of the buttermilk, reserving 1/2 cup.  Stir the dry ingredients and buttermilk with a fork, gradually adding more of the remaining liquid, until a dough is formed.  The dough should be soft and sticky, but not smooth.

Knead the dough lightly on a floured surface for 1 minute.  Form into a slightly flattened circle.  And make a large 1/2-inch deep X with a sharp knife in the center.  Place on a parchment lined cookie sheet and bake soda bread for 40-45 minutes. The bread is ready when it is golden and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.

Allow it to cool slightly, and then enjoy with a pat of Irish butter and perhaps a pint of Guinness.

Bagel and the Beast

7 Mar

I am admittedly stubborn.  Although I would deny this to all ends if pointed out by my parents or accused by my sister, I am, indeed, indisputably set in my ways.  It’s no wonder where I get this charming trait from.  Look no further than dear old dad.

I was raised to expect certain things in life to always be reliable.  This was especially applicable when it came to specific foods.  My father, born a poor Jew in Baltimore, knew certain things to be unequivocal.  ‘You can’t be certain of many things in this world,’ he would say.  A self-proclaimed Communist, he didn’t trust the government, or much of anyone besides the few friends he kept close since he was thirteen, smoking cigarettes and drinking beers in the streets of Baltimore before coming home to be reprimanded by ma, who could smell the stale stench on their breath.  Balmer, which it was called by those few natives in the know, was where he learned these irrefutable truths and became the obstinate eater he is today.

First, there is the egg cream.  ‘There is no such thing as a chocolate egg cream,’ he would declare.  ‘An egg cream includes three very simple ingredients: milk, chocolate, and soda water.  There is no chocolate egg cream because, damnit, egg creams are chocolate.’  Mention a vanilla egg cream and the man goes mad.  You don’t want to see the obvious infuriation when he sees those three blasphemous words on a diner menu.

Next up, meats.  My grandfather was a counterman at the local deli, waking up every morning to slice pounds and pounds of pastrami, corned beef, and brisket.  So my dad learned a thing or two about meat, and boy would he make sure every one knew it.  The deli drawer in our overwhelmingly lean and healthy fridge was perpetually stuffed full of salamis of every imaginable size, texture, and flavor.  Having dinner at one of our local Los Angeles delis, my mom, sister, and I would perch on the edge of our seats as Dad would take the first bite of a sandwich stacked four inches high with dark pink pastrami, always on rye bread, and always only with yellow mustard as garnish.  (There’s no such thing as pastrami on rye, pastrami only ever comes on rye).  Chewing his first bite, and washing it down with a crisp pickle and a sip of his egg cream (note, not chocolate), we would await his review.  It would have to be the perfect ratio of meat-to-fat, with just the right balance of salt.  None of the rest of us would even try our sandwiches before they received the Balmer seal of approval.  Get it wrong, and onto the next deli to try to replicate that ideal pastrami from his childhood.

Finally, and most importantly, there is the bagel.  A true bagel comes in only one variety: plain.  In fact, there is no such thing as a plain bagel, there is only a bagel.  The man is a purist, what can I say.  Just like his egg creams and his roast beef sandwiches, the truly perfect meal is simple and to the point.  A bagel, when made correctly, does not need to be toasted.  It is chewy and dense, more like a rubber tire than bread, and, when smeared with cream cheese and topped with lox, rather hard on the jaw.  He claims that this ultimate, quintessential bagel can only be found in New York City.  Something about the water.  I swear, my father claims that the city’s water, used to boil those chewy tubes of dough, lends the precise scientific makeup to produce the definitive bagel.

So you can imagine my fathers’ disgruntled response when I told him I wanted to try my hand at making bagels.  ‘Pfft,’ he scoffed.  ‘You can’t bake a damn bagel.  What do you think, they’re donuts?’  I knew not to push him too far by suggesting varieties, although my baking mind swam with visions of onion, poppy seed, and sourdough.  I assured him that the bagels would be plain, and would be boiled before I baked them, and after a few tense moments of silence, he reluctantly agreed to give them a taste.  I briefly toyed with the thought of calling my aunt to Fed-Ex some precious New York water, but dismissed the idea after considering the high cost of such a venture.

And so, with my sub par Los Angeles water and very few ingredients in tow, I set off to make as near an approximation as I could to the perfect New York bagel.

Simple Homemade Bagels


Ingredients:

1 tbsp active dry yeast
1 tbsp sugar
1 3/4 cups water, warm (100-110F)
4 cups bread flour (not all purpose)
1 tbsp salt
1 egg, for egg wash

Preparation:

In a large bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer) combine the yeast, sugar, and water. Let stand for 5 minutes, then stir in flour and salt. Mix dough thoroughly until it comes together in a large ball, pulling away from the sides of the bowl. Add an additional tablespoon of flour or water, if needed.
If kneading by hand (like me), turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until very smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. If using a stand mixer, knead the dough with the dough hook until elastic, about 8 minutes on a low speed. Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise until it doubles in size, about one hour.

Bring a large pot of water to a gentle boil and preheat the oven to 400F.

When dough has risen, turn it out onto a very lightly floured surface and divide into 12 equal pieces (first quarters, then thirds). Shape each piece into a tight ball, pinching the corners together at the bottom of the piece of dough. When all the balls are shaped, let the dough rest for 30 minutes covered with a clean dish towel.

Now shape the bagels. Using your fingers, poke a hole through the center of each dough ball and stretch out the dough into a ring with your fingers.  Make sure to make the hole a little larger than you want the finished bagel to have, and try not to flatten them too much (like I did).  The holes will shrink slightly during the baking process when the bagel expands. Let the bagels rest for about 10 minutes before boiling.

Drop four of the bagels carefully into the boiling water. Boil for 2 minutes on the first side, then flip and boil for an additional minute. Using a slotted spoon or strainer, transfer bagels to a clean towel to drain for a moment, then place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat process with remaining bagels.

Using a pastry brush, brush the boiled bagels with a lightly beaten egg and bake for 20-24 minutes, until golden brown.

Cool completely on a wire rack.
Slice and toast to serve (with cream cheese and all the fun extras).